OBETZ, Ohio – Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
The sound of time passing has a different meaning depending on where one is in his Columbus Crew career.
For 37-year-old Guillermo Barros Schelotto and 35-year-old Frankie Hejduk, it would be their wish that Father Time slow down so the success they’ve enjoyed over the years not be diminished with age.
As a brash, eager 20-year-old rookie midfielder, Dilly Duka has grown impatient, biding his time on a deep squad. He can’t wait for the opportunity to show his stuff.
Duka and fellow rookies Othaniel Yanez and Shaun Francis have yet to play in an MLS game and get only snippets of the field otherwise, such as the 45 minutes each played in Saturday’s exhibition against the Dayton Dutch Lions of the Premier Development League.
Getting an assist against an inferior opponent did nothing to brighten Duka’s outlook.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” he said.
He’s the most heralded of the three first-year players after being selected eighth in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. Yanez, a midfielder, was 61st while the defender Francis was 63rd of the 64 chosen in January.
“I’m definitely frustrated,” Duka said. “I’m really, really angry. I definitely don’t like the way my rookie season is going so far. I’m a much better player than not making the [game day] roster or not getting even a little playing time, so I’m really frustrated.”
The only league match that he made the 18-man roster for was at New York on May 20. His family and many of his friends from his hometown of Montville, N.J., were in attendance but he was not called upon.
“There’s no way that I think, or people who know how I play with me think, that I’m not good enough,” Duka said.
It’s been 36 regular-season and playoff games since coach Robert Warzycha used a rookie—midfielder Alex Grendi played 10 minutes at Toronto FC on May 2, 2009.
“It’s tough at times,” Yanez said. “You have to be patient and wait your turn. He’s the coach for a reason. He’ll know when we’re ready to go. Any minutes I can get I look forward to and prove to him that I do deserve some minutes and that’s why I’m on the team.”
The Crew has a nice problem: It is a winning team with a deep bench of veterans.
“The unfortunate thing for [Duka] as a high draft pick is he’s coming to a team with a lot of depth,” Crew technical director Brian Bliss said. “Some of his compatriots that he’s played with his whole life are not playing all the time but playing regularly. Sometimes it’s tough to accept. It’s a tough roster to crack.”
Bliss said the Crew rookies are a perfect example why the league needs to reestablish a reserve division that was dropped in 2009.
“I’m on the technical committee and I also sit on the subcommittee for the reserve league and the development of players,” he said. “Of all the subcommittees that’s probably the hottest topic and the most energy from the league standpoint has gone into revamping that in a new form for 2011.”
Warzycha understands the frustrations felt by Duka and the other rookies but said playing time must be earned at practice.
“If they play better, they’ll be on the field—but they’re not,’ he said. “It’s up to them, but it’s also the players playing with them. If Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven are playing well, then they have to be better than those guys.”
Warzycha said the young players can learn a lot by going against the veterans every day and that could lead to playing time.
“You have to work harder because they are that good,” he said. “If Dilly is better than what I have he is going to be on the field. Right now he is not.”
Duka is not so sure. He feels he has trained hard enough to play but has been overlooked.
“When you do it and it doesn’t work out you get so frustrated you want to go through the motions and not train,” he said. “Some days it’s like that because when you see you train hard and you’re sure you should be out there and you still don’t get an opportunity you just wonder.”
The Crew resume play Saturday against D.C. United, and then have a U.S. Open Cup match June 29 that could present opportunities for those at the bottom of the roster.
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